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Ex-IAF officer creates plane to conquer fear of flying

Last updated on: July 01, 2016 12:14 IST

'It's like your private Boeing 747 which you can fly yourself.'
'This concept brings the aeroplane closer to passengers and opens the cockpit to everyone.'
Former IAF officer Dinesh Nair has built an airplane from scratch and provides a cockpit experience to enthusiasts and those with a fear of flying.
Rediff.com's Archana Masih and photographer Rajesh Karkera take a joy ride.

Cockpit Vista

IMAGE: The cockpit of the aircraft is like that of an aircraft. Computer screens outside the window panels show actual visuals from a flight simulator.

"I'll just take off and show you how easy and safe it is to fly a plane," says Dinesh Nair, a former Indian Air Force aviation engineer, sitting inside an aeroplane which is not on an airport tarmac but on the sixth floor of a building in Chandivali, north-east Mumbai.

"In a cockpit the decision has to be right every time," he explains. "You cannot go wrong. Pilots may meet each other for the first time in a cockpit, but what binds them is training and their manuals. They don't do anything based on memory but on a checklist."

Nair enthusiastically explains a pilot's responsibilities, but what he has created is an attempt to deglamorise the airplane -- to open its doors and cockpit for all to see and experience what goes on inside.

Step inside and the seating is like a private Boeing 747 jet where one can sit with a full view of the entire cockpit.

There are no security doors that seal the pilots and the cockpit from the passengers -- a consequence of the tragic events of 9/11 -- well, here one can even take a shot at flying the aircraft!

The window give a beautiful view of the European countryside -- along the river Rhine and Maine.

There is even a pantry, a toilet and also a pilot's jacket in case an enthusiast wants to go the whole hog.

Cockpit Vista

IMAGE: The door leading to the aircraft. The body is made of wood and sunmica.

The aircraft has been built by Nair who once worked on MiG-21s and was responsible for the safety of the fighter jets.

Christened Cockpit Vista (external link), it provides the experience of flying aircraft like the Cessna, ATR and Boeing 747 on its flight simulators.

If you were in the pilot's seat, you could be landing your plane at an airport -- holding the controls, the throttles and all the buttons on the touch screens in front of you -- with a 360 degree view.

With 22 years of experience behind him in the IAF, Nair nurtured the idea for four years. A year after taking early retirement from the air force, he rolled up his sleeves and got down literally on his knees with carpenters to build the aircraft in an office complex in north-east Mumbai.

A bus driver's seat was tweaked and refurbished to make the pilots' seats in the cockpit. Similarly, car seats were upholstered to become passenger seats. The body of the aircraft has been made of wood, with roll up plywood with a sunmica laminated surface. The door is a well-made replica of an airline door.

Cockpit Vista

IMAGE: A former IAF officer, Dinesh Nair is an aviation engineer. Like a private jet, his aircraft has an open cockpit.

"This concept brings the aeroplane closer to passengers and opens the cockpit to everyone," Nair says.

"Four out of 10 passengers suffer from flight anxiety according to UN data. This is a first kind of setting in India that looks after passenger wellness and safety," he adds.

Nair's contention is that flight safety is not restricted to the two pilots and cabin crew, but also includes the passengers on board.

"If you have one unruly passenger or a flight anxiety passsenger, then the aeroplane is unsafe," he says. "I wanted to address issues that make the passenger feel unsafe."

"Also, I am waiting to hear the news that a passenger has landed a plane safely after the pilots have been incapacitated due to any reason. We have to be ready for any such eventuality," Nair adds.

Cockpit Vista

IMAGE: The window is actually an LED screen fitted inside the panel which provides visuals. The seats are upholstered Tata Safari car seats.

Since he began his project, those with a fear of flying have asked him questions like 'Will a plane go down if the pilot falls asleep or suffers a medical emergency?' and he tells them, 'No.'

"When they have a query like this I make them sit and put the plane in auto pilot and show how the plane can take turns and automatically come down from 40,000 feet to 5,000 feet itself. Planes are automated, they can also land on auto pilot," says Nair, whose wife is a pilot at one of India's airlines.

Explaining the most common passenger anxiety, which is turbulence, he says pilots do many things to avoid bad weather -- they divert routes, avoid dangerous clouds, if there is a full blanket of clouds ahead they come back -- "You may be agitated that you are late for a wedding or holiday, but s/he brought you safe," says Nair, who has had curious groups of people come to experience his airplane.

Airlines like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa run such programmes because they see flight anxiety as a part of safety. A weekend course costs 550 Euros. He attended one to find out what was on offer.

Cockpit Vista

IMAGE: People who come to fly the plane can wear a pilot jacket.

So far those who have come to see Nair's plane include enthusiasts, passengers suffering flight anxiety issues, families, corporate professionals and kids celebrating birthday parties.

A birthday party with a pizza, juice and a flying experience for a bunch of kids costs Rs 12,000. A family can experience a two hour session for Rs 4,500.

"The best takeaway after attending a session here is that people get a personal counselor in aviation because 99% have no connect with aviation. 15 minutes in the flight simulators that some malls have cost Rs 3,000, but here I tell them you not only get a simulator, but an airplane and it is yours, where you yourself are the pilot."

Video: Ex-IAF officer creates plane to conquer fear of flying.

Since certified simulators cost Rs 35,000 an hour and there are hardly ten of those in India, Nair also has had pilots come to brush up on their flight procedures.

"In modern aircraft, flying is all about procedures. In a long haul you don't feel movement, it's like sitting in a drawing room. Not one passenger pukes on a long haul flight anymore, earlier there would be 5 or 10 because aircraft were manually flown," says Nair, sitting in the captain's seat.

"But the downside is what if automation fails? That's the challenge. Hand flying aeroplanes is difficult, 15 years back pilots did that, but with automation that is not so and with times to come it will be difficult," he adds.

Cockpit Vista

IMAGE: The pantry galley. Nair offers coffee, green tea and cookies. Birthday parties celebrated here come with pizza and juice.

As he cruises at 40,000 feet, Nair presses the touch screen and the familiar beep sound that indicates the call for getting the cabin crew's attention or the seat belt sign come on.

This airplane comes to life the moment you switch it on and feed in your flight path. Teamwork starts as you enter the cockpit -- the pilots, ground staff, air traffic controllers -- "the ATC are amazing guys, they only see the airplanes on the computer screens and keep hundreds of airplanes safe in the skies. Let's respect them for what they do," says Nair, giving us a slice of life in the airline business.

Nair has a guest book which contain feedback from people who have experienced flying in his plane, the Cockpit Vista ((external link)). He discourages people to come solo and asks them to come with family or friends because it costs the same and it is more fun in a group.

The concept is new in India and Nair says he is sure it will fly!

Archana Masih / Rediff.com
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